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USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author S.M. Schmitz

Sci-fi Romances and Mythic Fantasies with a little bit of heart and a whole lot of snark

Sneak Peek at Vengeance, the first book of the Warships of the Spire series

July 1, 2017

Releasing in Dominion Rising on August 8th, Vengeance is the first book in my co-authored series, Warships of the Spire. Bestselling fantasy author, Lisa Blackwood, and I are excited to offer readers this sci-fi romance/space opera featuring artificial intelligence, telepaths, epic space battles, and come on...it's me. Of course there will be some snark. 

Want a sneak peek at Vengeance? Read on for a preview of what we have in store!

Chapter 1

 

Vengeance glanced down at Hayley as the child skipped beside his humanoid drone. Back aboard his warship body, joy flickered through his primary consciousness. Amused, he found himself smiling, because one day, this small, unassuming child would safeguard his existence as well as thousands of other lives. Her blond hair bounced in its ponytail, and her skin always seemed a bit paler as twilight approached. Surprisingly, the girl looked nothing like her genetic profile had suggested she would, and for seven years, he’d wondered if last minute changes had been made to her genetics. But if there were answers for him, they remained hidden behind repeated insistences that nothing had been changed, that human DNA could be unpredictable.

Hayley held his drone’s hand as they walked back toward the dormitory where she lived with the other girls who would one day serve as links to other Spire warships. Vengeance squeezed her little hand and pointed to the lake in the distance.

“Do you see the bradan leaping from the water, Hayley?” he asked.

She squinted at the shimmering water as a silver crescent sliced through the late afternoon sky. “What is it?”

“An animal,” he explained. “They live in the water but need air to breathe so they leap from the lake. They’re quite docile.”

Hayley looked up at his drone. When he smiled down at her, she smiled back at him and those strong emotions of happiness and protectiveness surged through him again. “What does docile mean?”

He laughed and told her it meant bradan were tame and wouldn’t hurt her if she ever went into the lake to swim.

“I don’t know how to swim, Ven,” she reminded him.

“I know,” he assured her. “I don’t forget things.”

“Oh, I forgot,” she said with a giggle.

“We need to return before it gets dark. The house mother will worry about you.”

“Do you have to go?” Hayley sighed. “I like it when you visit.”

“I like it when I visit you, too,” he offered affectionately. “You’re a remarkable girl, Hayley. You have a strong gift.”

She smiled up at him again and bounced happily on her feet. “And one day, I’ll be your link.”

“Yes,” Vengeance laughed again. “One day, you will. That means we’ll be friends for a long time.”

She nodded and pulled him along the path. He let the little girl drag him behind her as she skipped to the dormitory. He would’ve let her drag him anywhere. The child had completely enchanted him from the moment he’d first met her before she was born. As a telepath created to serve the Spire, she’d been engineered in the Telepathy Breeding Laboratory, where he’d visited her often. Even as a fetus confined to an incubator, he’d regularly reached out to her mind and comforted her. His presence always seemed to calm her.

“Next time you visit,” she said, “let’s go to the lake so I can see a bradan up close.”

“Next time,” he promised.

Hayley twisted around, and he had to stop and steady himself so he wouldn’t run over the small girl. “Do you swear, Ven? Do you swear you won’t be gone too long this time?”

He’d only been away for thirty-three days, but it had probably seemed like a lifetime to a seven-year-old girl. But the Spire had no plans to send him far from Nualla and the Telepath Development School during her early childhood. She didn’t know that, though, so he knelt in front of her and took her other small hand in his. “I’ll return in a few weeks. And I’ll bring you a present you can use at the lake.”

Hayley’s blue eyes lit up, and she bounced happily on the balls of her feet again. “And you’ll teach me to swim?”

Vengeance pretended to think about it until she stopped bouncing and pouted instead. “All right,” he said. “But they’ve tried to teach you already. You’re a bit stubborn, Hayley.”

She fixed him with her most innocent look and retorted, “Probably because I’m meant to be your link, Vengeance. A warship as old as you will need a stubborn link.”

Vengeance blinked at her before laughter erupted from his drone’s chest. While this body had been engineered so he could more fully interact with his crew, he could also feel with it much like a human could. And the way this little girl made him laugh was the most enjoyable emotion he’d felt in centuries.

“Old?” he repeated. “You make it sound like I’m a wrinkled man with gray hair. I must be halfway to the scrapyard then.”

Hayley grinned. “Your hair is still brown and you don’t have wrinkles, but you’ve been around a long time, Vengeance. Mother Doris says you’re one of the oldest Warships in the Spire.”

“Well,” Vengeance said as he released one of her hands so he could rise, “Mother Doris is right.”

As they reached the dormitory, he knelt before her again so he could hug her goodbye. Hayley threw her arms around his neck, and he promised her one last time that he’d return in a few weeks to take her to the lake. She reluctantly loosened her grip, and Vengeance waited outside until Doris, the AI house mother, arrived and took her hand, closing the door behind her.

With Hayley no longer his drone’s main focus, he opened the mental conduit between his drone body and his primary neural core. All was well aboard his ship’s body, which was stationed in orbit while his crew enjoyed the peaceful environment of Nualla. This planet had served as the residence for new telepaths for as long as Vengeance had existed, and Liv was right: He was quite old.

But since his sentience had been created to power and control his warship body, as well as numerous maintenance drones, combat sentinels, and drudges—whose physical forms could be repaired or replaced as needed—he wasn’t limited by time in the same way as a being whose body was entirely organic.

Even his warship body had undergone replacement twice in his existence.  As long as new links kept him connected to the Spire and viable, he could potentially live forever if he wanted to.

Years ago, he’d admitted to his current link, Renee, that the daily minutiae of overseeing his crew no longer held the appeal it once had. The last three hundred years had been lacking something vital. The Spire Empire had fallen into routine, and so had he.

Coming here to Nualla had sparked long-absent emotions to ignite once again in his core personality. It had been close to six hundred years since joy, curiosity, and empathy had cascaded through his neural pathways.

And all because of a child. A young telepath so adventurous, so full of life and the need to explore the universe that she’d managed to do what his last two links hadn’t: revitalize an older model warship AI.

The link component of his core personality expanded, and Renee’s humor flowed down through his neural pathways ten seconds before her words embedded themselves in his consciousness. “I know you were thinking about the past millennia. I have a simple answer for you: You were bored out of your mind.”

“I’m an AI. We don’t get bored,” he answered along their telepathic link.

“AIs don’t lie either. But I’ve been around long enough to know that’s a line many of your kind take great joy in skating very, very close to.” Again, a hint of humor permeated his mind. “You were bored until I put in the application to the Nualla Telepathic Development Project. Admit it.”

“Perhaps,” he admitted aloud, although saying it felt like he was betraying Renee, as if she hadn’t been good enough to fulfill the role of link telepath.

“Vengeance, your thoughts and emotions are in no way a betrayal of me. I’m glad a child’s love was able to pull you out of that armored shield you built around your core-self long before we met.” Renee’s humor vanished as she recalled painful memories, both her own and Vengeance’s. “When I was assigned to you, I knew your history and you knew mine. Admit it, Big Brother, we’ve made a good team if for no other reason than we understand one another.”

“You’ve been a gift, Sister. Your friendship has been invaluable.” Vengeance paused, his eyebrows pulling together as he realized where Renee was. He could easily locate any of his telepaths, but he’d been so deep in thought, he hadn’t been paying attention to their whereabouts. “You’re already at the spaceport?”

“Yes. I’ll see you soon. The transport is prepped and ready.”

Vengeance’s drone hurried to the spaceport, and he’d just entered when Renee joined him from a side corridor. He’d known her for centuries and when they were separated, Vengeance often found himself missing her physical presence even though they remained connected through their link.

“How is she?” Renee asked. She put her arm through his as they walked the long hallway toward the flight deck and the waiting transport.

“As full of energy and inquisitive as ever,” he answered, smiling as he remembered the day’s trip through the woods and her constant questions about everything that caught her attention.

“Good,” Renee replied. “She’s a good match for you, Ven. She’ll keep you young.”

Vengeance snorted and eyed her playfully. “Young? I think that stopped being a possibility about a thousand years ago.”

Renee ran her free hand through her long red hair and sighed. “I think I forgot what it was like to be young about a hundred and fifty years ago.”

“You’ve hardly changed—” An emergency dispatch from his primary core suddenly overrode his friendly bantering. Two and a half seconds later, alarms sounded throughout the spaceport.

And that could only mean one thing: Nualla was in danger.

 

 

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